House of Cards
Does the America of House of Cards ever have any real problems that require a president’s attention? I ask because it feels like, in the six seasons of this gloomily lit program, the presidents are always mighty busy arranging fake catastrophes or exaggerating perfectly manageable problems so as to stoke public panic whenever it suits them. Which I guess is one way to handle things, but the Underwoods can’t control every part of America at every single second. So wouldn’t all their efforts be thwarted whenever a real terrorist brought an AR-15 to a grocery store, or a hurricane devastated a coastal region, or one of the other 10 million typical American horror stories unfolded?
Apparently no such event upsets the Claire-constructed news cycle. Claire wants this factory leak-turned-explosion in Bellport, where there were two casualties but the damage is reportedly under control, to be an all-hands-on-deck disaster. Claire all but blackmails the governor into declaring a state of emergency, a total Frank maneuver even though, she says, “I promised myself I wouldn’t be like him.” Looks like someone’s lived long enough to see herself become the villain! So now the EPA and FEMA and the Ohio National Guard are converging on this humble town of Real Americans as Claire’s staff pointedly asks the country, “Where is Shepherd Unlimited in all this?”
Ah, of course: The Shepherds own the factory. This whole performance reminds me of one of my evergreen HoC questions: What do the Underwoods want? Power, okay, sure, fine — but to what end? Why does Claire want to be president? Does she have a coherent worldview? What are her politics, even? All we’ve ever seen Claire or Frank fight for are their own petty grievances, using huge swaths of the nation or major policies as pawns in their interpersonal skirmishes. They know you can be powerful just by being rich, right?
Anyway, Claire does this whole thing of going to the town and insisting on a tour and dramatically removing her gas mask (where is her security detail in all this?) and because no one’s quite ready to drink that Bellport water yet, she feels vindicated. At the gym to which all the Bellport residents have been forced to evacuate for no godly reason, Seth, who now works for the Shepherd Freedom Foundation, is coercing people into signing up for some vaguely-defined app that will steal all their data and spy on them forever and ever. Perhaps the least plausible moment in this episode is when an average citizen stops to read the terms and conditions of this app and asks Seth what it is, exactly, he’s agreeing to by signing. Said citizen later details his concerns about this app to Janine, who works for a weekly paper and is investigating ARCAS, the factory.
Annette tries to make this into a PR win, holding hands with Claire in the air, but Claire visibly flinches and tugs her hand away, accusing the Shepherd-owned factory of demonstrating “a blatant disregard for human life.” Annette interrupts her. As I asked in the premiere recap: would people actually be this disrespectful toward a sitting president? In public? I don’t buy it — and Claire shuts her up by saying the EPA’s investigative branch is moving into the Pentagon so they can use the military’s resources to figure out what went wrong. Oh, Claire also wants to know “which one of you” had the idea of leaving Frank’s ring on their bed.
CNN blows up over the “Presidential Recoil,” where Tom (of the Herald, not to be confused with Tom, the novelist, whom Claire murdered last season; it is unclear why these characters had to be given the same name) plays talking head alongside Seth. Tom says Claire was about to divorce Frank right before he died — and that Frank was about to be indicted. “This may be an unseemly thing to say, but it’s quite possible that her husband’s death was the president’s lucky day.” May be, Tom?
Doug is watching this with his arms folded and he is EXHALING LOUDLY. His exhales, like all of his speech, are just growly sounds. In his therapy sessions — which I assume are held in dark rooms so that Doug can feel at home — Doug wonders who betrayed Frank. Later, he sneaks a call to the U.S. attorney general and tells her he’s going to recant. For convoluted legal reasons, she’s going to have to recuse herself from testifying against Doug. “The case that’s going to change your life is the prosecution of Claire Underwood.”
Back in the Oval, Mark tells Claire she needs to “make amends” with the Shepherds. “Do you want to spend the rest of your presidency defending your dead husband?” Fair question! But also remember that Mark is in with the Shepherds. As we will learn later in this episode, he’s really in with the Shepherds, like, making-out-in-the-coat-check-with-Annette in with them. Claire takes this under advisement but also tells Mark they’re sticking with this very nervous-seeming, bright-eyed young woman as acting press secretary, even though Mark calls her an “elevated intern.” Mark is rude but I can’t pretend he doesn’t have a point. Then I remember why I recognize her: She was friendly with novelist Tom and is the only person who asked about his whereabouts after he died.
Annette drops in on her son, Duncan, who assures her they can spin the current situation any way they want. Claire “can’t decide if she’s Lady Macbeth or Macbeth,” Annette says. Bill is so obsessed with Frank he needs to stay in his exact suite at the Hay-Adams (sound familiar?). Seth is delighted that, somehow, 50,000 people signed up for an app they explain several times throughout this episode but whose appeal I still don’t understand. It’s like, push alerts from the near-future? I don’t know, I’m sure it won’t matter. The point is the Shepherds have access to a lot of information they really shouldn’t get to have access to. It’s this season’s Pollyhop.
At a fundraiser, Claire and Annette have a tête-à-tête in the ladies room. (Sidebar: I like Annette’s dress but isn’t it kind of off-season? Velvet in July?) It’s just your average chat, friends catching up. Annette says, “You know I slept with him once,” and Claire replies, “Your brother?” Which is PERFECT and delicious, like Folger’s in your cup. But actually, Claire knows about Frank and Annette’s tryst, because those weren’t the sorts of secrets they kept from one another — remember, she knew all about Zoe and the rest of Frank’s, ah, side hustles, as he did hers — and Annette isn’t all that surprised. But the best part is when she says Frank was a great kisser and all, but trash in bed. “I bet it was never very different with you. Even you, the blonde goddess.” YES. Why does this show ever waste Robin Wright’s talents on scenes with dopey men? The chemistry she has with other women is so much more thrilling. (One of my favorite scenes on HoC is when Claire and Cathy Durant play beer pong. Memories!) They do this deep, meaningful curtsey-thing to each other and go their separate ways.
Claire heads to the prep kitchen, where Bill awaits her, just to be a dick, I guess? Claire promises to make his life a living hell. Bill just wants Claire to sign that … bill. (Did they really have to name him Bill? The naming on this show, SMDH.) He mentions Raymond Tusk. Every time someone on this show threatens to bring Raymond Tusk back into the proceedings, a piece of my spirit shrivels up and dies inside. Mostly this scene is just about Bill proving he knows stuff and that he has power over Claire. This, again, makes me wonder why Claire was ever invested in being president, if, in the world of HoC, being president is like 95 percent just doing whatever rich people tell you to do.
By the way, someone sneakily records Claire telling someone that “the reign of the middle-aged white man is over,” which is too bad for “the Bill Shepherds of the world.” In real life, damning recordings do little to derail a presidency. But perhaps this will be more consequential in the HoC universe.
Doug has “escaped” from the facility where I honestly did not realize he was trapped. After meeting with the USAG, Doug returns home to his precious Sadness Cave only to discover an intruder awaiting him. Claire’s here! She tells Doug, in a very enchanting voice, that if Cathy Durant goes away, so does this whole mess. “We can do whatever we want, Doug,” she says. Doug is NOT interested. When Claire tells him she plans to do good, he CACKLES. After telling Doug that LeAnn’s murder was all on Frank, Claire gives Doug Frank’s F.U. cufflinks. Now that Doug is strictly a T-shirt and hoodie kind of guy, I’m not sure what she expects him to do with those. Maybe sleep with them under his pillow?
Claire holds Annette’s hand and she signs the bill and does everything the Shepherds want her to do. She also tells Bill to put Frank’s ring back, so, guess someone’s got to dig up a grave again. And she meets with a doctor, in private, to hear that someone’s “prognosis is not good.” What do we think that’s all about? All those cigarettes by the window coming back to haunt her? Or is Claire keeping tabs on someone else’s health?
One last reveal from Claire: She tells us she’s not the one who killed Frank; they weren’t even in bed together when it happened. Is she telling us the truth? And if she is, who killed Frank? I hope it’s someone interesting and not one of these new characters I’m not invested in yet. More importantly: Is this entire season going to be about the man House of Cards just fired? If the cast and crew get to be rid of Kevin Spacey, why is the audience still stuck with him?